HomeIndustryNova Scotia’s Burgeoning Industry Experiences Legislative Difficulties

Nova Scotia’s Burgeoning Industry Experiences Legislative Difficulties

Kelp farming is a burgeoning field in Nova Scotia, but the industry upstart is experiencing some hurdles as it vies for a place in the province’s blue economy.

The Ecology Action Centre, an environmental charity based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, operates the Seaweed Farming and Training Centre to show people how to start up their own kelp farming operation in partnership with Peter Darnell, owner of Indian Point Marine Farms out of Mahone Bay, N.S.

While the Ecology Action Centre does a lot of hands-on training and support in starting kelp nurseries, tending kelp farms or developing kelp products, it also does a lot of regulatory and policy advocacy for the growing industry. According to Shannon Arnold, Associate Director of Marine Programs for the Ecology Action Centre, many would-be kelp farmers must wait for years to receive a license to get their business off the ground.

“Getting a new sea farm in the water, even for really low-impact, low-risk things like seaweed, mussels, scallops or oysters and marine plants is very onerous. Right now, it is taking people years to get on the water,” said Arnold.

“It takes three to four years in Nova Scotia right now to get a new farm. When you’re talking about small businesses and independent farmers who want to do this, that is too long.”

Arnold pointed to the state of Maine as an example of how she would like to see Nova Scotia’s system work, where kelp farmers can apply for small leases that are usually processed within months.

“Here we are up here and it’s taking years for people to get on the water, so we’re just getting left behind in terms of this, which is perfect for Nova Scotia waters,” said Arnold. “We are getting some movement from the provinces on that. They have recognized it. The whole license and leasing regime was really set up in Nova Scotia for big, industrial salmon farming. It’s higher risk with different issues, and it’s really not suited for shellfish and smaller farms.”

Most of the kelp grown by farmers is sugar kelp.

Sugar kelp, according to Arnold, can be grown quickly in large amounts in a small area. With the potential for a large amount of kelp to start flowing from the province, the Ecology Action Centre has been working to explore markets for this product. Currently, kelp is commonly used in food, skincare products, pharmaceuticals and supplements.

“This year, we had 3,000 pounds of kelp, and it went to 20 different restaurants to have on their menu to try it as a fresh product. It went to retail, it has gone to a bunch of processing testing,” said Arnold. “There’s a whole slew of products who are testing it out to use it with, whether that’s in a food product or a health and beauty cream and stuff like that.”

Many people who have shown interest in kelp farming already have a lot of the necessities for starting a farm, like boats, ropes, buoys and concrete anchors. For these people, starting up a kelp farm is relatively low cost and low effort. Given the low barrier to entry, Anderson thinks kelp farming is a great way for people in rural coastal areas to supplement their income, especially for people working in fishing or aquaculture.

“From start to finish, you have a product ready to go to market in less than six months, and you can fit it in seasonally with other things because kelp grows over the winter,” said Anderson. “For additional income streams, which we all know we have to do in rural communities, it really fits well in a rural, coastal economic world to bring in some more opportunities.”

The Ecology Action Centre has had “hundreds” of interested people come forward to learn about kelp farming, with many on the way to running their own small business. What Anderson said the industry needs to solidify its footing in the province now is are the resources and infrastructure to not only harvest kelp, but to process it.

“That’s really the key. We need a few people to step up. You don’t need huge dryers at the moment, but you need someone to be drying or grinding. There’s quite a few folks who have a warehouse already or they have some underutilized infrastructure,” said Anderson. “So, there’s a number of people in small businesses that are interested, and maybe that’s their role.”

As the organization works on expediting the process of applying for kelp farming licenses and leases, the Ecology Action Centre has been attempting to make a case to the provincial government on the economic benefits of allowing the industry to grow to its full potential.

“We used quite conservative numbers to make sure that it was realistic, and what we came out with for Nova Scotia is that within two to three years that you could get $7.5 million in farmgate sales, so that’s going to the farmers, and then you could get a further $30 million if you’re getting up and running with some drying,” said Anderson. “Just some primary process, simple drying and you can move yourself up to a nice $30 million for that sector of the province. If you go further in and you’re going to manufacture products, then you can add more on top of that.”

Anyone interested in the Ecology Action Centre’s kelp farming program can email kelpkurious@ecologyaction.ca to be linked with more resources.